The Simpsons’ “Brick Like Me” episode is one of those highly anticipated episodes that scare me. It’s a milestone episode, number 550 and it’s also a tie-in to a popular movie. What’s worse is that it’s a real kids’ movie, The Lego Movie, and it was paid for, brick by brick, by The Lego Corporation. Lego has been courting The Simpsons for years, creating a Lego Springfield a few years ago and The Simpsons have been flirting right back, with a Lego couch gag.
I’m always wary of episodes that feature guest stars (or 3D Tron realities) on The Simpsons. I don’t mean the guest stars who are playing a character, I’m talking about the ones who play themselves. Sometimes The Simpsons team can get their guests to poke fun at themselves. Other times they pander. And when The Simpsons panders it’s not always pretty.
But not here. Here it’s a Lego universe and the Simpsons only live in it. But they make themselves at home. The Simpsons lose nothing in welcoming the Lego demographic. You can barely tell that they’ve made it ever-so-slightly more kid friendly. The series still heaps subtle scorn on religion, ridicules about The Hunger Games by saying, “oh when to they get to the part where they kill the children?” and Homer and Marge really let themselves fall apart during sex in a joke that went by much faster than I thought it would. Sometimes faster isn’t better, as I learned from Mad magazine (RIP Al Feldstein).
“Brick Like Me” opens on Marge’s smiling face and immediately shows the possibilities of working with Legos. Homer pulls off Marge’s hand. It works as both an establishing shot and as the setup for all the gags to come. When the bedroom is destroyed and Marge’s hand looks lost, we immediately see how easily things work out in Lego Springfield. As Marge says, “Everything fits with everything else and no one gets hurt.” This frees the Simpsons team of their already free animated reality, bullies can be disassembled and reassembled at will, an entire school can be rebuilt by a 12-year old.
The construction of Springfield is minutely detailed. It better be, it took two years to make this episode and Lego donated thousands of building blocks. The entire boulevard is now lined with shops that reflect the Lego existence, detailed below. Even Marge and Homer’s wedding picture is lovingly recreated. The Love Tester game at Moe’s is now color coded according to Lego Bricks. There are some great details, like the shine on the Lego-Springfieldian’s head’s, like plastic reflects light. The meshing of Legomation and animation doesn’t only happen during the shared realities. Small details that are un-Legoable, like the skunk and Homer tossing down a beer, are animated, not Legoized.
The Simpsons have a few themes that run through the program. In “Brick Like Me,” the writers choose the most positive: That Marge is Homer’s one redeeming quality and that he’s always trying to win the love of his daughter. Homer and Lisa’s relationship is probably the most complicated on The Simpsons. Homer’s repeated attempts to bond with Lisa make him a great dad. One of the best on TV. I mean, he spent a whole day at work making a mini brewery for her Brickstock construction that really brews. He never stops trying, no matter how much he’d rather be doing anything else. And he’s an honest father, he tells Lisa the truths behind parenting. (And fiction in The New Yorker.) Namely that he’d rather be doing anything else. Homer has always been more honest with Lisa than any other character. He might collude with Bart, Marge may love and abet, but Homer never candy coats reality with Lisa.
Without giving too much away: Of course Comic Book Guy is the catalyst. The twist makes perfect sense because Comic Book Guy is a collector. He is the imagination that is unleashed by Legos. It is also perfect that it is Bart who is most attuned to Homer in his time of need, in a Lego nutsack no less. I particularly liked the refitting of the Bible myth to Lego parameters that prove that religion can’t be true.
The Simpsons, as I’ve pointed out before, are very self-referential and self-aware. They’re a cartoon. They know they’re a cartoon and they wink at the audience by making jokes about being a cartoon. Here the Simpsons make fun of the never-aging nature of animated characters by pointing out that Lisa will never really age. They make the audience know that they’re self-aware as Lego creations too. As Abe points out about Homer, “He’s a freak. Take him apart and leave the pieces under the couch.”
So, I came in wary but no, it’s a good payoff. Not jam-packed with jokes this time, but no misfires. On a show like The Simpsons, as long as it’s been running and with so many jokes packed per animated cell, we forgive a lot of misfired jokes. Overall, the balance is always tilted toward funny and they didn’t lose their subversive core. “Brick Like Me” has no groaners. It will be considered a classic, yeah. Not my favorite classic, but it is already memorable, lest I forget, and satisfying. In five years, fans will instantly recognize “the Lego episode.” It was strangely exhilerating. Everything fit and no one got hurt.
“Brick Like Me” was written by Brian Kelley. The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer Simpson, Groundskeeper Willie and Principal Skinner, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Selma and Patty Bouvier, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson and Nelson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson, Pamela Hayden as Millhouse. Hank Azaria plays Comic Book Guy and Moe Szyslak.
But It All Went By So Fast: Springfield Businesses: Lard Fig Donuts, The 99-Stud Store, Brik-E-Mart, H&R Brick, First Brick of Springfield, Brick Block and Beyond, Adult Blocks.
At the Android’s Dungeon and Baseball Card Book Shop: Posters – Block Runner, Radioactive Fig, Block Go Comics, Books – We Can Build You, the Minfig in the High Castle, UBRICK by Philip K. Brick, Beyond Lies the Stud, Do Minifigs Dream of Plastic Sheep, A Scanner Blockly, Sort my Pieces by Philip K. Brick. The ad on the back of the zine Comic Book Guy is reading is for X-Ray Specs.
Moe’s Love Tester: Red 8X2 with slanty part and hinges, Orange 6X2 brick with holes, Yellow 4X2 flat, Blue 3X1, Grey 1X1. Hats and Hair game.
Church – Hymns 1X6, 2X4. Jebediah Springfield Statue: A noble spirit embiggens the miniest fig. Elements of Style sells fine torsos for men.
The Universe: Age 13 billion +, No. of pieces 10 to the 80th power. (Sorry, don’t know how to format that properly.)
Mistake in Lisa’s room – Malibu Stacy has not been Legoized. Skinner wasn’t tall enough. Comic Book Guy wasn’t fat enough.
Den of Geek Rating: 4.5 Out of 5 Stars